Many, many years ago, more than I am willing to say, there was a weed-choked, trash-strewn plot of land on the northwest corner of my high school campus. Horticulture classes were held there and attended by the handful of students who figured studying horticulture was the easiest way to fulfill their science requirements. The word on campus was that illicit plants were being cultivated under the noses of the school’s administration. I highly doubt that was true but the garden was in such a sorry state that perhaps some thought such a story would bolster the reputation of this sad little plot of ground.
However, I am delighted to say today The Learning Garden at Venice High School in Venice, California has earned the new reputation of being one of the finest school gardens in the country.
Renovations to the garden began in 2001 when some parents and other volunteers took on the tremendous task of reclaiming the land and transforming the debris-filled area into a lush garden complete with a fountain, koi pond, organic vegetable and fruit patches and several smaller gardens of medicinal herbs and native California plant life.
Student enrollment expanded from a mere handful to about 150 youths, most of whom are grossly uninformed about the processes of nature when they start the program. For many, their science learning leaves the sterile confines of the classroom and finds fruition in the practical experience of the garden.
Not only do the students learn the discipline of taking care of the plants, soil, and equipment, but they also learn respect for the environment, respect for the animal and bird life that dwell in the garden, and, most importantly, respect for themselves. Many of these student gardeners are learning about healthy eating for the first time. Working in the garden has transformed their attitudes towards food, and they are learning how to make healthy food choices.
In addition to organic food production, the students are also exposed to alternative forms of healing through working in the medicinal gardens. The Chinese herb garden, in particular, also provides a hands-on learning experience for the adult students of a local university of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Learning Garden provides them with the only place in the area where they can see such herbs in their natural state. Tai Chi and Yoga classes are also offered in the garden for these college students.
Finally, the garden serves as a focal point for community-building. Volunteers from the neighborhood gather to help maintain the garden and to advocate with city planners to transform other under-utilized spaces in the city for community gardens. It is the hope of many students, teachers, and community volunteers that The Learning Garden at Venice High School will inspire other communities around the world to create their own learning gardens.
Lori G. © 2007